Thursday, July 2, 2015

Book review: Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own by Kate Bolick

Like most American girls, I assumed when I grew up, I'd get married. Probably right after college. And have a couple of kids and a house but I drew the line at a mini van. But things didn't work out that way and I am so glad they didn't. In fact, for a long time, I had happily resigned myself to the fact that it was looking like I'd be single forever. And while I wasn't thrilled with the idea at first (in fact, in my 20s I'd describe myself as horrified by that idea), by my 30s, it was nice. I bought myself a condo. I decorated everything myself and it was exactly how I liked it. But just when everything was the way I liked it, I met my husband. Even then, I told him we didn't ever have to get married. (He obviously disagreed.)

Kate Bolick struggles with this situation as well. She seems to be more ingrained in the societal pressures, as even when she's extolling the virtues of spinsterhood, she's going from long-term relationship to long-term relationship, without much solo time in between. She eventually sees a pattern in the authors she's drawn to who, if they're not spinsters in the strict, conventional sense of the word, do rock society's definitions, and often are single for long stretches and if they do marry, the marriages tend to be short and bad. Yet, for all her purported longing for their quiet life of the mind, she doesn't make choices that would lead her to that life. She seems to be an extrovert, relying on the approval of others in her life (not that there's anything wrong with that but it explains her serial monogamy and lack of alone-time despite her avowed desire for it.) And she moves through her twenties and thirties, guided by five women authors of a different era, in trying to figure out what she wants from life, from relationships, and what works for her.

I am glad she's worked hard to give the word "spinster" back its dignity, to analyze the benefits of spinsterhood at different periods, both to the women who were the spinsters and to society at large. I wish she'd been able to have a little more personal insight. There's a line in the Prince song "17 Days" where he says, "If you're the one who's always lonely. Then I'm the one who's always alone." When I was single, I loved that line, the difference he made between "lonely" and "alone." Some people, and I suspect Ms. Bolick is among them, think those words mean the same. I don't. I am often alone and rarely lonely.

This book is a great literary analysis of some often overlooked writers, and a worthy discussion of what it means to be single in this day and age. Avowed single ladies might not appreciate all of Ms. Bolick's conclusions, but I greatly appreciate that she's opened up this discussion.

A friend who works at a bookstore sent me an ARC of this book.

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